Living in Light of Two Ages
In the previous post (The Russians Are Coming), I made mention of "a Russian-Muslim alliance which threatens the nation of Israel, [which] has long been a feature of dispensational prophecy punditry." John Hagee explains this much better than I can. Notice Hagee's erroneous assumption that Ezekiel 38-39 refers to the modern nation of Russia, ignoring both the historical context of the original prophecy, and the reinterpretation of Gog and MaGog by John in Revelation 20.
A Russian-Muslim alliance which threatens the nation of Israel, has long been a feature of dispensational prophecy punditry. If Vladimir Putin so much as sneezes, the prophecy pundits jump into action.
Just as the recent actions of Syria's Bashar al-Assad in attempting to crush all political opposition to his regime produced a spate of speculation about whether or not Damascus would return to prominence and threaten Israel's security (Damascus in Bible prophecy), so too, the Russian military occupation of the Crimea (a region attached to the Russian empire from the time of Catherine the Great, but now part of the Ukraine--a new and independent republic formed after the break-up of the Soviet Union) has sent end-times prognosticators into a state of apoplexy (or joy--I'm not sure which).
The "Rapture Index" has tied the record high (188), because, as the keeper of the index indicates--under the heading: Gog (Russia)--"Putin's invasion of Ukraine has maxed out this category." The fear that Russia is about to do something on a grand scale which will lead to the Rapture and an invasion of Israel (precipitating the eventual Battle of Armegeddon) is based upon a serious misreading of Ezekiel 38-39.
Typically, dispensationalists appeal to Ezekiel's prophecy as a yet unfulfilled prediction of a Russian-backed Islamic invasion of the modern nation of Israel, at or about the time the seven-year tribulation begins. Dispensationalists believe that the nations listed in the prophecy refer to people living in Ezekiel's time, who can then be traced to modern nations. Following this method, Gog is the mysterious leader of Magog, a land north of the Caucasus mountains inhabited by the ancient Scythians. This is in modern Russia. Meshech is supposedly Moscow. Tubal is variously taken as Turkey or Tolbosk (a city in Russia). Persia is clearly Iran. Put is Libya. Cush is Ethiopia. Beth-Togarmah is Turkey. Some have even identified Gomer as Germany. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Gomer is more often identified with Russia.
Since the bulk of these people live to the uttermost parts of the north (Ezekiel 38:15), and since the predicted invasion of Israel will come from the north, any Russian flex of its military might is automatically tied to Ezekiel's prophecy. At some point near the beginning of the tribulation, these pundits believe, Israel will be invaded by a Russian-Islamic confederacy, only to prevail militarily through God's amazing grace.
To be fair, the dispensationalists were not the first to tie this prophecy to contemporary events. Ambrose identified these same figures as the Goths who were then threatening the Holy Roman Empire. Luther applied this prophecy to the Turks, who were at the gates of Vienna at the time of the Reformation.
But there are two significant problems with this approach to Ezekiel 38-39. First, as Edwin Yamauchi (a noted evangelical archaeologist and historian) has pointed out in his book, Foes from the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Baker, 1983), this identification is based upon a number of unsubstantiated assumptions. For one thing, Gog and Magog cannot be directly tied to the Scythians. Yamauchi believes that their identity is not certain at all. Furthermore, he contends that Meshech and Tubal cannot be tied to Moscow or Tobolsk in any sense. He believes these are references to ancient Assyria which did invade Israel from the north. This means that Ezekiel is speaking of Israel's immediate future when writing his prophecy (an Assyrian invasion from the north), which also prefigures an end-time event.
How do we know that to be the case? If you follow the basic hermeneutical principle that the New Testament interprets the Old Testament (something dispensationalists are not willing to admit when it comes to interpreting biblical prophecy), then in Revelation 20:8-9, John speaks of Gog and Magog as symbolic of the nations of the earth, gathering together to make war on the saints (the church).
This leads to the second problem with the dispensational understanding. In Revelation 20:8-9, John is universalizing Ezekiel's prophecy of Israel being invaded from the north to the church being attacked from the four corners of the earth--this "spiritualizing" of the Old Testament as practiced by John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is, of course, the very thing dispensationalists claim is illegitimate. The fact of the matter is, this is exactly what John does.
In Revelation 20:8-9, John sees a vision of Gog and Magog leading all of the nations on the earth to wage war against God's people (the church), after Satan has been released from the Abyss. These enemies of Christ and his church are ultimately and finally destroyed at Christ's second advent (see Beale, The Book of Revelation, Eerdmans, 1022-1024). This means that the Assyrian invasion of Israel from the north foretold by Ezekiel, is actually typological of the end-times war upon the entire people of God as witnessed by John in his vision.
If you are interested, I deal with this topic more fully in my book, The Man of Sin (Baker, 2006). Click here: Riddleblog - Man of Sin - Uncovering the Truth About Antichrist
Because our dispensational friends miss the point that Ezekiel is making, whenever Russia undertakes military action, the prophecy index immediately spikes, this time tying the record high. Surely even dispensationalists who embrace this misreading of Ezekiel 38-39, must know that the expected Russian-Muslim invasion of Israel is not likely to come about merely because Putin wants to maintain Russia's long-standing naval base at Sevastapol, which gives the Russian navy access to the Black Sea. This has little, if anything, to do with Israel. This has nothing to do with Ezekiel 38-39.
Dr. Brian Lee, pastor of the "other" Christ Reformed Church (in DC.), has a helpful essay on various theological problems associated with the observance of Lent (and various other spiritual disciplines) published in the Federalist.
According to Lee,
The problem with even the evangelical, self-imposed fast is that it creates a little law for us to obey, a rule that is within our reach. It is, not surprisingly, a law of our own making, for the law of God — love God and neighbor with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength — is impossible to obey, even for a moment. If we fulfill our personal law, we have confirmed ourselves in the conceit that we aren’t so badly off after all.
To read the rest of Dr. Lee's insightful essay, click here: Repent of Lent
The Sixteenth in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Hebrews
Faith is one of those words Christians often use without definition. Since faith is a biblical word, “faith” has the connotation of being a good thing, and therefore something everyone should have. But this is completely wide of the mark. The word “faith” has very a technical meaning in the New Testament. Faith is not some generic term for whatever subjective opinion people may or may not have about God. Faith is used either as a verb (“to believe”) or as a noun (“faith”), and is always tied to its object (what is believed). The author of Hebrews carefully defines the term “faith” and then illustrates that definition by describing how the great figures from the Old Testament (Noah, Moses, Abraham, etc.) believed in God’s promise–the same promise which the author of Hebrews has argued was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Old Testament saints mentioned in Hebrews 11 serve primarily as witnesses to God’s faithfulness in keeping his covenant promises, and only secondarily as examples to us of people who have faith in God’s promise during difficult times.
We now move into a new (and perhaps the best known) section of Hebrews, chapter 11. Often described as the “hall of faith” because so many Old Testament luminaries are mentioned here, all of those who make the author’s list are included here because they believed the gracious covenant promise which God made to his redeemed people– “I will be your God and you will be my people.” There is much here in this chapter–the nature and character of faith, as well as a discussion of how the New Testament writers (such as the author of Hebrews) read the Old Testament. So, we will take our time going through it
Many of those who preach through this particular section of Hebrews emphasize the exemplary character of the faith of those who make the list. In taking this approach, the focus falls upon the example these people set for us, and which we should follow. This approach emphasizes that these were great men, they had faith in YHWH during the most difficult of times, so we should imitate them by striving to have the same kind of faith they had. But the obvious problem with this approach is that one of those mentioned, Rahab, was a prostitute. All those mentioned were sinful individuals, and those who lived during the time of the Judges (Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah) were all men whose behavior was less then exemplary. Nevertheless, these people are numbered among those who had faith in the promise.
Given the fact that these biblical examples are better understood as repentant sinners, justified before God through their faith in that gracious covenant promise God made to his people, I’m going to take a different tact as we go through this passage in the coming weeks. As I see it, the emphasis in this chapter falls squarely upon God’s faithfulness in keeping his promise. All of those mentioned in this chapter trusted in the same thing–God’s covenant promise to provide redemption for his people. All of these people had faith–granted. The author says that repeatedly. But to what object was their faith directed? In what did they trust? Or better, in whom did they trust? All of those listed here in Hebrews 11 believed that God would keep his promise, making the object of faith–God’s promise–the central theme of the chapter, and not the presence of “faith” in the hearts and minds of those mentioned.
When interpreted in this manner, chapter 11 of Hebrews serves the author’s larger purpose of proving the superiority of Jesus Christ to Moses, the priests of Israel, the tabernacle and the temple, and even angels. The author is not merely saying to those considering returning to Judaism, “imitate” the faith of your fathers. Rather he is saying “your fathers all trusted the one covenant promise, and that covenant promise (the new covenant) is now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” The emphasis is not merely that these people had faith, but that they had faith in the same object–the gracious covenant promise of God, now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
To read the rest of the sermon: Click Here
Moved by the joy and celebration of a wedding (and the archway made of raised musical instruments), Grandpa inadvertently reveals some of his deep-seated and long-held commitments!
Sunday Morning (March 9, 2014): We have completed our study of our Lord's Upper Room Discourse and High Priestly Prayer, and we now move into the final section of John's Gospel, our Lord's Passion (chapters 18-21). This Sunday we are considering Jesus' arrest as recounted in John 18:1-11.
Note: We return to the sanctuary this coming Lord's day.
Sunday Afternoon: I am continuing my series on the Canons of Dort. We are covering the second head of doctrine (Christ's death) and dealing with refutation of errors. The catechism service begins @ 1:15 p.m.
Wednesday Night Bible Study (March 5, 2014): In our "Studies in the Book of Revelation," we will take up the 14th chapter of Revelation and the angelic messenger. Bible study begins at 7:30 p.m.
Friday Night Academy (March 7, 2014): We are studying Michael Horton's theology text, The Christian Faith, and we'll continue in part two, chapter six, (253 ff.) and a discussion of God's eternity and omnipresence.
For more information and directions, check out the Christ Reformed website: Christ Reformed Church
The Book of Job, Part 1
We are beginning a new series on Suffering & the Christian Life and will start with a three-part miniseries on the book of Job. What is the meaning and purpose of this book? What does it teach us about suffering? How does Job deal with his many trials, and how should we think about the advice he gets from his friends? That’s the focus of this edition of White Horse Inn
I'm a creature of habit. I still read the morning newspaper before I turn on my computer. And as I read my morning paper, I always take time to read the local obituaries. There is much to learn, I think, from what people record in public documents when someone they love dies.
Several things are pretty clear. People in Orange County no longer die. Instead, they "pass away." For years, my dear friend, Rod Rosenbladt, has harped on me to stop saying people "pass away" (which was made popular by the likes of Mary Baker Eddy). Things "pass away" (cf. 2 Peter 3:10) and cease to exist, but people (who have immortal souls) die. They die because of Adam's sin and the curse. A few obits still indicate that people "die," but they now "pass away" at a clip ten times greater.
It also strikes me that even in evangelical dominated OC, there are far more Roman Catholic obituaries listed than Protestant ones. The likely reason for this is that even nominal Roman Catholics will have burial/death rites conducted in their home church, even if the funeral takes place in the local mortuary. Protestants tend to conduct funerals in mortuaries and at graveside, and will, on occasion, hold memorial services in their churches (but these are not often mentioned in the obituary, even if the burial is). A nominal Protestant funeral in a local mortuary will not mention a home church--even if there is one. I have conducted many funerals in local mortuaries and at graveside, but have never done a funeral at Christ Reformed where the deceased's coffin has been brought into the sanctuary for a traditional funeral service before burial. This situation creates the perception that Roman Catholics have a much closer tie to the local church than Protestant evangelicals do.
Related to the above, I've also noticed that fewer and fewer obituaries make any reference whatsoever to the deceased's church/religious affliation. There are occasional references to someone's service in their church (one recent obit mentioned that a man had been a deacon in his church for over fifty years!), or to their faith in Christ (in the true evangelical sense), but the practice is far less common than it used to be. Jews often post a Star of David in the obit, and others post Lodge or other symbols of fraternal organizations. But you won't see many (if any) Lutheran, Methodist, or Presbyterian denominational symbols. Often times, the fraternal symbols win out over the religious one (if both church and fraternal organizations are mentioned in the obit).
I often chuckle at what I call the "evangelicalization" of Roman Catholicism in OC. Many Roman obits refer to the fact that the departed "loved Jesus" and is now in heaven--the person writing the obit apparently forgetting about Limbus Patrum and the need for the departed to "undergo purification" in Purgatory (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, secs. 1030-32). How can grandma be anything but a saint, right? But the Roman view requires grandma to spend some time in purification, because she failed to confess to her priest that she said a four-letter word when the Thanksgiving turkey didn't turn out right, that she made a face at her neighbor, and for thinking that some of her grandchildren are obnoxious brats.
One of the sad realities in reading obits is the rapid decline of the so-called "Greatest Generation." World War Two vets are dying by the score. We will miss their courage and wisdom. Our local Medal of Honor recipient (from D-Day) recently died, and the nearby community center named in his honor didn't even bother to lower their flag to half-mast. I am afraid people younger than I don't know how great these men are, or what they accomplished on their nation's behalf. Our community will miss them all, greatly.
Finally, all kinds of sappiness and religiosity comes out in obits. One child opined that "grandma is making heaven a better place." Another sought comfort in the belief that his father was golfing in heaven with all his buddies, and would finally get his "hole in one." The worst of the past week's obits was that of an elderly woman, who's family wrote of her, "she passed into the next phase of her energy force," but then went on to mention that her funeral was to be held in an Episcopal church on the east coast. As loopy as liberal Episcopalians have become, this really should be no surprise.
Reading your local obituaries will go a long way in reminding you of the inescapable fact that "in Adam's fall, sinned we all." Death and taxes may be inevitable, and both are the consequence of human sin. Reading obituaries is a good way to understand what people in your neighborhood believe about God and the world, what they regard as important, and how they view life.